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New sports offer choices for Sun Cities active retirees

Posted 4/18/17

From left, Recreation Centers of Sun City West Governing Board President Wanda Schnabel, RCSCW General Manager Mike Whiting and Sun City West Pickleball Club President Donna Maloney, along with club …

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New sports offer choices for Sun Cities active retirees

From left, Recreation Centers of Sun City West Governing Board President Wanda Schnabel, RCSCW General Manager Mike Whiting and Sun City West Pickleball Club President Donna Maloney, along with club sponsors Blair Wilkes and Belhem Cummins of Sands Chevrolet, cut the ribbon at the April 7 grand opening of the new pickleball courts at R.H. Johnson Recreation Center, 19803 R.H. Johnson Blvd.
By Matt Roy, Independent Newsmedia

“Men grow old because they stop playing, and not conversely,” wrote G. Stanley Hall in his 1904 treatise on psychology.

More than a century later, his aphorism still applies to active retirees in the Sun Cities, even as age and health begin to limit choices for some.

Julie Luther, a physical therapist with The Orthopedic Clinic Association in Phoenix, said staying active is the key to staying healthy.

“I would caution anyone about the dangers of inactivity. Research has proven the detrimental effect of a sedentary lifestyle,” Ms. Luther stated by email.

Racquet sports require full body movement, agility and hand-eye coordination. Wii bowling and other video game sports can be performed by less agile participants, because the action is performed from a stationary position, either standing or sitting. As with all physical activities, seniors are advised to consult their physician when considering something new, Ms. Luther cautioned.

“I feel that these activities are appropriate for all able-bodied individuals who have the mental and physical capacity to participate. With any sport, there is risk of injury. Individuals should consult their primary care physician before beginning a new activity to determine if they are healthy enough to participate,” she stated.

Fortunately for Sun Citians, the rec centers offer a plethora of activities, many of which are ideal for residents of all skills and capabilities.

“Other activities that are appropriate for both active and less active older adults are water aerobics, yoga or Tai chi, or other fitness classes specifically targeted to older adults. These classes are tailored to provide appropriate cardio, strength and balance training in a safe environment, and can be tailored to the participant’s ability and fitness level,” Ms. Luther stated.

Among activities increasing in popularity locally and nationally are pickleball, whisperball and Wii bowling.

Pickleball explosion

Recreation Centers of Sun City West officials opened their new pickleball courts with a ribbon cutting ceremony April 7 at R.H. Johnson Recreation Center, 19803 R.H. Johnson Blvd. The new facility serves the community and one of its fastest growing clubs, the Sun City West Pickleball Club.

Pickleball is a racquet sport, which combines elements of tennis, badminton and ping-pong. It is played on a modified tennis court — or on a dedicated pickleball court, like those recently opened at the R.H. Johnson campus. The smaller 20’x44’ court is the same size as that used for badminton, while the game employs a special paddle and plastic ball with holes in it, similar to a whiffle ball.

According to the USA Pickleball Association, theirs is among the fastest growing sports in the country.

“As more retirement locations have adopted pickleball as an integrated sports activity for their population of residents, we have a seen an explosion of new court construction throughout the United States. Tennis, racquetball and ping pong players love the competitive nature of the sport and regularly participate in local, regional, and national tournaments,” according to the association’s website.

The group claims pickleball is now played in all 50 states, with more than 15,000 indoor and outdoor courts and 2.5 million participants nationwide. The trend bears out locally, where in only a few short years play in Sun City West has expanded to 26 courts in the community.

An article published in Tennis Industry magazine (“Pickleball & Tennis: Can They be Friends,” December 2015) suggests part of the apparent explosion in the popularity of pickleball may be attributed to its accessibility to a wide audience, including those with physical limitations.

“Because it has so many skills compatible with those of tennis, its smaller courts, under-hand strokes and slower balls are finding favor among baby boomers who spent their previous decades hitting overhead smashes and charging the net — and who now want to stay active and competitive, despite their limitations,” the article states.

Whisperball rising

Also referred to as wacquetball or wimpy ball, whisperball is a modified version of another racquet sport, racquetball.

It employs the same court and racquet, but with a slightly larger dense, foam ball. The rules are also modified — notably allowing a second bounce before return — to provide a game experience requiring less impact while still delivering on vigorous play.

Sun City West resident Larry Lacombe is among the Valley’s chief proponents of the game in the community, especially for those with limited capabilities.

“Racquetball is extremely fast and loud,” Mr. Lacombe said. “We’re all too well-seasoned to get hurt.”

He said he has three rules he stresses for whisperball: nobody gets hurt — if you cannot reach the ball let it go; it is a game and all about fun; and any exercise is better than no exercise. Since learning the game six years ago, Mr. Lacombe has taught more than 150 men and women to play the game.

The game is slower and requires less upper body strength to compete and enjoy, but still delivers a workout, he explained.

“The main difference is you can take up to two bounces before you hit the ball and there is hardly any running. But you still sweat like a racehorse,” he said.

As part of the Sun City West Racquetball/Handball/Whisperball Club, the sport has about 40 active adherents from among the group’s nearly 150 members. The club welcomes new members and whisperball is easy to learn, even for those not already familiar with racquet sports, Mr. Lacombe said.

“I can teach anyone the basics in about 20 to 30 minutes,” he said.

No experience is required, though players need to bring a dedicated pair of clean court shoes not worn outside, because the wood courts are easily damaged. White soles are preferred over black, which can leave skid marks.

Whisperball is played 3-5 p.m. Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays at the racquetball courts at R.H. Johnson center. Play is open to anyone with an RCSCW rec card and club membership is only $5 per year. The nominal fee includes three club banquet events annually, the next of which will be a barbecue 4-7 p.m. Tuesday, April 25 at Beardsley Recreation Center, 12755 W. Beardsley Road.

Mr. Lacombe said those interested in the club or the sport should contact him by email at lacombe8@gmail.com or call 623-266-7058. He encourages his neighbors to get out and have fun, either with whisperball or another of the many other activities available in the community.

“With over 114 chartered clubs in SCW, if you can’t find something to do, shame on you,” he added with a chuckle.

They all said, Wii!

The hollow cacophony of polyurethane balls scattering sets of plastic-covered, maple wood bowling pins echoes across 30 lanes at the sports pavilion at the R.H. Johnson campus.

A few feet away in the multipurpose room – known to some as the shuffleboard room – teams of equally serious bowlers work to perfect their delivery. They steel their gaze down digital lanes depicted on flat-screen TVs while gripping the controls of the Nintendo game system. Some stand, some sit, some stroll in with walkers or roll in on wheelchairs – and everyone is enjoying a day at the lanes.

Having just completed its third season at the pavilion and its fifth in the community, the Wii bowling league at R.H. Johnson Lanes includes 164 players comprising 41 league teams. Barry Hardesty, sports pavilion manager, never expected the video game to take off in the community as it has.

“Once they started, it just caught on,” Mr. Hardesty said. “It’s so exciting, they really get into it and they’re having fun.”

A lot of players have been regular bowlers for decades, but limited mobility has kept some from playing. At R.H. Johnson and across the country, Wii bowling has grown exponentially in recent years – not just with the kids, but with active seniors ranging up to 100 years of age.

Mr. Hardesty recalled one resident, a recent widow, who described languishing alone in her living room before being invited to play by Bill Warren, who coordinates the Wii leagues for the rec centers.

“That first day, she had so much fun that she cried,” Mr. Hardesty said.

A national association, the National Senior League, promotes the game and facilitates league play throughout the country, touting 288 teams from 98 communities, who participated in its 2016 national championships, according to the website.

Though not affiliated with the national league, the R.H Johnson teams have coordinated league play against other local groups, including a recent tournament day hosted at the Pebble Creek community in Goodyear.

The Wii summer league, now forming, meets with starting times at 10 a.m., noon and 2 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays running through July 21. Play is open to rec center cardholders with an additional $2 weekly fee or a one-time $15 fee.

Stop by the pavilion to sign up or contact Mr. Warren at 623-544-6171 or bill.warren@suncitywest.com.